It remains one of the key dates in the Basque calendar, July 31, the day Saint Ignatius of Loiola died in Rome as  a result of a form of malaria. Born in Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa, in 1491, at age eighteen he entered into the military service of the Duke of Nájera, who would subsequently  become Viceroy of Navarre after its capitulation to Castile in 1512. He demonstrated a keen military sense and became a key aide to the Duke, but was injured seriously at the Battle of Pamplona-Iruñea in 1521, while fighting for the Crown of Castile against a combined Navarrese-French force.

Saint Ignatius of Loiola (1491-1556). Painting by E. Salaberria. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Saint Ignatius of Loiola (1491-1556). Painting by E. Salaberria. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sent home to the family seat in Gipuzkoa, and his military career over, he went through an arduous recovery process, during which time he went through a famous spiritual conversion, formulating a method of meditation he termed the “spiritual exercises.” Once he had recovered sufficiently to walk, he undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, practising a strict form of asceticism along the way. On his return to Europe he began preaching in public, and eventually settling in Paris to continue his theological studies.

When Peter Faber and Francis Xavier (another Basque) founded the Society of Jesus in 1539, Loiola was chosen to be the order’s first Superior General. He subsequently helped establish the Jesuits as a dynamic order, organizing missions and creating a strong, disciplined centralized organization.

Loiola was beatified in 1609 and canonized in 1622. His feast day, July 31, is celebrated in both Gipuzkoa and Bizkaia, as well as being an important date for Basque Americans in Idaho. Indeed, next year’s celebration will coincide with Jaialdi, held every five years in Boise.

Today, the Sanctuary of Loiola is an important site in the Basque Country, and of course several important educational institutions bear his name in the US as does the town of St. Ignace in Michigan.